Ibanez: I know that you guys have a new album coming out in April. What was the main focus for the new record?
Paul: Ultimately with every album, we just try to expand and grow as musicians and people working together to create things. Whether that is getting more aggressive or getting more melodic¡Äyou can grow by stepping backwards sometimes. I can't say that we really had an agenda. It was kind of the same old "let's get together and start writing some songs". You learn from writing and that was the general goal I guess, to do something that would be pushing us a little bit.
Ibanez: How do you feel this album compares to the other albums you guys have released?
Paul: I think it's a natural progression. I think it shares some commonality with the other albums, but it also treads some newer territories. There are some tracks that focus on the traditional structure of a song, but then there's also some stuff that's very abstract structure-wise. It's growth in a lot of different directions. I think we've just gotten to be better songwriters as we've played and gotten older.
Ibanez: Are there any songs on the new album where you felt like your bass playing took center stage?
Paul: I look at that from two different lights, too. There's a song like the first track on the album called, "Redemption". It has a lot of stop-time bass in it and a lot of things where I'll leave some holes and pickups and accents. That's something I really haven't done a lot of in my playing, and it's really powerful in the way that the bottom will drop out and come back in. Then there are other songs like some of the last couple of tracks, "Just Another Nightmare" or "Forevermore", where there's a lot of busy bass, a lot of walking eighth notes and fast runs. There's a lot of in-between stuff on the other tracks, too.
It's pretty diverse as far as how a lot of my bass styles are. I approached every song pretty differently as far as what each song called for. Sometimes I really played to the drums and stayed very rudiment. Other times I played more notes with the guitars or would play a root-5 thing over an open chord or emphasize the root and the 5 over the eighth notes. I would take into account what the drums were doing and what the guitar was doing and really try to bring out what the part called for.
Ibanez: So it's really situation and song based?
Paul: Yeah, it's very song oriented. I always try not to step on vocals or a guitar solo, so my general instinct is to do less on those parts. Nick, our producer, really pushed me to do a little bit more in those parts than I might have in the past. So it was kind of cool.
Ibanez: Has your outlook on bass playing changed much from the first album, "Somber Eyes to the Sky", to the new one, "Threads of Life"?
Paul: I think in some ways it's just the appreciation for the simplicity and sometimes playing less notes and letting low end resonate. Back during the first album, I would have been so concerned about playing sixteenth notes or whatever [laughs], but now I'm more likely to down pick eighth notes or hang some half notes or whole notes here and there. When you're playing sixteenth notes on a bass¡Äin order to get low end on a bass, the bass has to resonate. When you're picking it or even playing it with your fingers that many times in a measure, you can't get the full potential of the low end of a bass string. It's not allowing it to breathe enough. There's more attack than there is resonation. So things like that, just using the physics of a bass string to create more bottom end, that's something I've been getting into a lot more than anything lately. It's just kind of thinking more about when you're hitting the string on the bass, what's actually happening to create that low end? It's the resonation of the string, not the constantly hitting it with your attack. Less can create more in the soundscape of the song. There are no rules in music. You just do what sounds the best.
Ibanez: When did you start playing Ibanez basses?
Paul: My first Ibanez bass I got a long time ago, back in¡Äway back when [laughs]. Let me think now. I'm dating myself as a relic. One of my first basses was an old X series. It was cherry red, points in every direction. It was kind of funny playing that in an old hardcore band, this super 80s metal bass. I really always liked that bass. When I started working with some other people here and there, I had some other basses along the way. Then Ibanez approached Matt and I back in 2002, and I started playing those SRX basses. That's what I've stuck with since.
Ibanez: Was there anything in particular that drew you to the SRX line?
Paul: I like the feel. The neck's nice to play. The weighting of it is really even and balanced. The pickups are great. They can be super hot if you want them to be or you can tone them back and get more of a passive sound. It's just a smooth bass, really comfortable to play, and they sound great.
Ibanez: Is there anything customized on your bass?
Paul: I did some visual customizing on a couple of models in the past. The prototype I have right now is pretty much based on the SRX700. It's got different paint, a single knob because I don't really use the tone knobs and the pickup knobs. I keep the pickups split and the EQs at 12, so pretty much flat all the time. The basses sound great. They don't really need that extra boost. So I have that removed, so that it's just a volume knob. The one thing I did differently also was to change the bridge to those single saddle bridges that are on the SR Prestige models I believe. Each string has its own individual saddle.
Ibanez: Did you take any kind of lessons when you were younger?
Paul: Yeah. When I was first starting to play, I learned from a guy that lived up the street from me. He had an associates degree in music, and he was kind of an 80s shred player. He was a guitarist teaching me how to play bass. So it was kind of neat. I learned a lot of chords and scales, and he's trying to teach me how to play the intro to "Diary of a Madman", the guitar part, on bass. Those were some of the kinds of things I was learning, when I was first starting out. So he was trying to show me how to play bar chords and stuff on a bass [laughs]. But it was great, because I can do a lot of that stuff now.
At the time, he was teaching me inversions and all sorts of stuff that made no sense to me at all. But it was kind of cool, because years later I found the books with all those notes and all of a sudden I had gotten to a point where I understood all that stuff. He definitely taught me a lot of things that went in one ear and out the other, over my head. But he taught my fingers how to move and some basic theory stuff that has stuck with me over the years.
Ibanez: I'm sure that affected your playing to some degree.
Paul: Well it certainly helped me. That was my first dive into theory. I've never really been schooled in theory, but I do have a decent understanding of the basics. I'm not fluent in it, but if I take a second to analyze what's going on I can usually put it together.
Ibanez: When you guys are writing songs, do you usually approach it from a theory perspective, by ear, or kind of a combination of the two?
Paul: It's completely split down the middle. There'll be times when I'm playing something and I'm like, "That's not right. There should be F # in this key, but the F works." There's no set thing of, this is theory so we gotta stick to it, or we can't leave the scale of a minor key. We'll throw in some passing tones here and there. It's metal, so you've got to have some chromatics and some different sounds. You can create some different stuff by going those places that you're not technically supposed to.
There are other times, though, where I'm like, "We're in E minor, so I know that the D is going to be major. The C is going to be major." I'll use those here and there for some runs. Sometimes I'll worry about putting the proper notes in; others I'll just go totally by ear.
Ibanez: Do you advocate taking lessons or being self-taught?
Paul: There are merits to both. There are people that have become very successful from both, so I don't think there's really a right or wrong way. I think it just really depends on the person. Theory never hurts to learn to some degree and then unlearn as quick as you learn it, too. It never hurts to have some vocabulary on it. You just don't want to get to a point where you fall into the same patterns all the time.
Ibanez: Any advice for young bass players just getting their start?
Paul: Yeah. Practice a lot and listen to lots of different kinds of music. Bass is utilized in so many different ways in different styles of music. Like listen to some reggae. Listen to some stuff that maybe you don't even enjoy at first. Like listen to some old hard bop jazz, some Miles Davis or some John Coltrane or something. Just watch how the bass interacts in those types of music. It's cool, because you can always take those styles and apply it to what you're doing to create a different vibe on what's going on.